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Sri Lanka hope to punch above their weight

  • Story Highlights
  • Only 3 Sri Lankan competitors so far qualified for the Olympics
  • Sydney Olympic medallist Susanthika Jayasinghe is biggest hope
  • Ratnayake's appearance is welcome return for Sri Lankan boxers to the Games
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By Nilantha Kankanange
ART TV, Sri Lanka
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Editor's note: CNN's global network of affiliates will be providing dispatches from their countries on the Olympics. In this report, ART TV reports from Sri Lanka.

(CNN) -- Being a small nation with only around 20 million people, Olympic appearances have always been very important for Sri Lanka.

Sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe, Sri Lanka's main hope for a medal in Beijing this summer.

Although Sri Lanka has only won 2 medals in its 60 years in attendance at the Olympic Games, the Sri Lankans really value these victories.

The island nation's first Olympic medal was won by Duncan White 60 years ago when he won the silver medal in the 400m men's hurdles event at the London Olympics in 1948.

Thereafter the Sri Lankans had to wait 52 desperate years to see their second Olympic medal.

The winner was sprinter Susanthika Jayasinghe, who won bronze in the women's 200m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Eight years on and Jayasinghe is yet again Sri Lanka's best hope for a medal at the Beijing Olympics.

She is undoubtedly Sri Lanka's most celebrated athlete and will be making her forth consecutive Olympic appearance when she takes to the track in Beijing this summer. According to the IAAF rankings, Jayasinghe is 7th in the women's 200m and ranked 20th in the women's 100m.

A medal in Beijing would be an incredible achievement for the athlete who turns 33 this year. Encouragingly, she's been in good form lately. Last year she won 2 golds in the 100m and 200m at the Asian Championships held in Amman, Jordan. She also raced to bronze at the IAAF World Championship in Osaka, Japan in 2007.

Other than Jayasinghe, two more competitors have already qualified to compete at the Beijing Olympics: javelin thrower Nadeeka Lakmali and boxer Anuruddha Ratnayake.

Lakmali is the national record holder in women's javelin, having beaten the previous record at a recent national event with a throw of 54.08m.

She is currently training in Cuba, and while she is not throwing far enough to be among the world's best, the Sri Lankan athletics authority believe that the experience she will gain from competing in Beijing will be of great benefit to her in regional events in the near future and in the long term.

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Anuruddha Ratnayake will be the first boxer from Sri Lanka to feature at the Olympics since H.K Karunaratne in 1968, who was one of many pugilists from the island nation that appeared at the Olympics until the Games in Mexico City.

The head of the Sri Lankan Amateur Boxing Association, Dian Gomes, said his prime target was to produce a boxer with enough quality to compete at the Olympics again, and in Ratnayake he has got his wish.

The flyweight boxer booked his place in Beijing when he beat Ecuador's Juan Vega at the World Boxing Championship in Chicago in November 2007.

His win was particularly significant because Ratnayake was making his comeback after serving a two-year ban when he tested positive for using a banned substance while competing at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2005.

During the period of suspension Ratnayake worked hard to keep fit and the World Boxing Championship was tailor-made for his comeback fight. He's now in Cuba training and is expected to return to the island later this month with the hopes of the nation for Olympic success on his shoulders.

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